Wisdom Wednesday: The Myth of “Free” Shipping

These days,  if you ask the average consumer what their biggest issue is with online purchasing,  chances are they’re going to say shipping costs.   That’s why so many companies are moving to offering free shipping on orders over a certain amount,  or on any order at all. Consumers have been trained to look for it,  and to expect to receive free shipping on the orders they place.  The desire for free shipping is so ingrained  that most consumers don’t even think about what costs they might be paying in place of the “free” shipping they’re receiving.

At EnMart,  we get asked about free shipping frequently,  but offer it very rarely,  generally only through our e-mail specials and then only a few times a year.  Instead we focus on keeping our prices low and giving our customers shipping options and the lowest rates we can offer.   To us,  this is a more transparent way to do business but,  to some potential customers,  who are focused on the word “free” any shipping cost at all is to high.  While we realize we can’t change everyone’s mind when it comes to this subject,  we wanted to explain why we think as we do about free shipping and why we don’t,  as a general rule, offer it.

First,  let’s talk about what “free” shipping really is.   I like this definition of free shipping from an article about the psychology behind this marketing tool.  Basically,  free shipping is defined as “a marketing technique that removes the stated cost of shipping charges for qualified purchases”.   Notice, it doesn’t say eliminates the charges,  it simply says removes the stated cost,  which means that you see a zero in the shipping line on your invoice.  That cost hasn’t disappeared, however,  it’s just not visible to you.    Someone still has to pay that cost.

One way to pay that cost,  a way that primarily works for massively large companies like Amazon,  is economies of scale.  What this means is that the retailer ships so many packages, and can subsequently negotiate extremely low rates with shipping companies,  and so their burden of shipping cost is less when spread over the amount of business the company does.   Even in the case of the biggest companies,  this is a strategy that doesn’t always pay off.  Amazon only recovers about 55% of their shipping costs,  and they can only shoulder that kind of burden because of their size and the offshoot programs they’ve created to generate additional revenue.

For companies that aren’t Amazon,  or Target or Wal-Mart,  one way to offer free shipping is to hide the cost of the shipment in the price of the product.   The math (in very simplistic form) works like this:

Company A and Company B both sell a blue widget.  It costs $3 to ship.

Company A sells the widget for $4.00 and $3.00 shipping.

Company B sells the widget for $7.00.

The cost is the same – the only difference is that if you buy from Company B,  in the column next to shipping you’ll see this: $0.

We understand that seeing $0 in the shipping column on your invoice may make you feel like you’re saving dollars,  but that isn’t always the case.  The reality is that free shipping is never free,  someone has to pay the cost,  either you as the consumer,  or the company that’s selling you the product, and if it’s the company that’s selling the product,  they’re going to have to recoup that cost in some way.   Always make sure you compare costs and spend the time to ensure that your “free” shipping is really free, and the best value available.  It may cost you a bit of time on the front end,  but you’ll be sure you’re getting the best deal available, whether you pay shipping costs or not.

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The Gifts of Summer

While you couldn’t tell it by the temperatures in Northern Michigan for the last few weeks,  summer is rapidly approaching.  The start of summer means a lot of things,  graduations,  the end of the school year,  summer camp,  family reunions,  Fourth of July,  and numerous cookouts, pool parties and campfires.  All of these events,  of course,  are also opportunities for personalized gifts or promo products.   If you’re one of the businesses that wants to capitalize on the season,  we have some ideas that will help.

First,  let’s start with education.   Teacher gifts are big at the end of the year,  and it would be nice to be able to offer something more than an apple.  A personalized Owl Cubbie (owls are symbols of wisdom) would make a great gift for a special teacher or professor.   The graduate in your life would most likely treasure a Cubbie in the shape of the school mascot embroidered with the name of the school and the date of graduation.   Tigersbears, and lions are common school mascots and could be easily decorated.  The mascot option also works to commemorate sports championships,  or membership in the cheer squad or the school band.

Cubbies also make a great option for the child going to sleep away camp for the first time.   A personalized, huggable harlequin dog or adorable penguin could help ease any pangs of homesickness.  Personalized messenger bags are a great option for those going to day camp.   Luggage and bag tags can help make sure that any necessary supplies or equipment go to the right person so your favorite camper is well supplied.

Cookouts are a fertile ground for personalized cooking utensils.   Your favorite BBQ chef would love to have a personalized cutting board on which to chop onions for burgers or mushrooms for steaks.   If the BBQ pit also features a bar area,  personalized shot glasses or beer mugs will be a big hit.  Decorated coasters could help keep frosty drinks from staining patio furniture.

The Fourth of July is probably the major summer holiday and is also a great time for personalized decorated items.   Patriot variegated embroidery thread is perfect for that patriotic quilt or tablecloth for the Fourth of July celebration.  Flag patches could be used as table favors or as giveaways.  A patriotic mural could be made from sublimated tiles.

Truth be told,  every season is brimming over with events that are crying out for promotional items and personalized goods,  summer just happens to be the one that is coming up.  The trick to capitalizing on each season and the opportunities it may bring is to be alert and to think about how you can marry the circumstances of your markets to the products that are available.   Customers often don’t know what they want or need, and part of your job,  as a decorator,  is to show them the possibilities.   This post outlines a few of the options that are available for summer.   We look forward to seeing the seasonal decorative items that you all will discover and create.

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Supply Spotlight: Specialty Stabilizer

We just came back from the DAX Show in Minneapolis.   While we were at the show,  as usual,  we fielded quite a few questions about stabilizer.  It seems that stabilizer is one of the things about embroidery that can be confusing for those who are just starting out,  or for those who haven’t had much exposure to the variety of specialized stabilizers that are available.  Since everyone who reads this blog wasn’t able to be at the show and hear our explanations there,  I figured I’d share the information here as well.

First,  let’s define what a specialty stabilizer is.   In general,  a specialty stabilizer is one that is developed for a particular type of embroidery,  to perform a particular function or to work with a particular type of fabric or embroiderable good.  A specialty stabilizer is often used because it will increase the quality of the finished embroidery in some way.

There are a variety of specialty stabilizers available,  and covering each one in depth would result in a blog post that was miles long,  so I’m just going to try and give you an overview of the common options and the reasons why they are used.

Poly Mesh  Poly mesh stabilizer is a light weight, textured stabilizer that is great for t-shirts and light weight fabrics.  The texture allows for the support of a large number of stitches,  but the light weight ensures that the garment or the embroidered design won’t be distorted by a large wad of backing.

Fusible Poly MeshFusible poly mesh is the same material as regular poly mesh,  with the same light weight feel and the same texture.   The difference is that fusible,  as the name implies,  can be fused,  with heat,  to the back of a garment.  Fusible is useful for infant or children’s clothing, covering embroidery that might otherwise scratch delicate skin.   It can also be used with performance wear,  to stabilize and help eliminate the stretch in these types of fabrics.

AdhesiveAdhesive backing is coated with an adhesive which is covered with a release paper.  This type of backing can be hooped,  after which the release paper is scored,  exposing the adhesive,  and allowing for the securing of small items which couldn’t otherwise be hooped,  like patches or socks.  Adhesive backing can also be another option for performance wear,  functioning as a barrier against the stretchiness of the material being embroidered.

Water SolubleWater soluble stabilizer can be a backing or a topping.  As a topping,  water soluble is used on top of fabrics that have a pile.  It is commonly used on fleece or towels and works to keep the stitches from sinking into the pile and disappearing.   Another type of water soluble,  called Badgemaster, is thicker and used for making free standing lace.

Cutaway/Washaway – Another option for free standing lace is a cutaway/washaway backing.  This type of stabilizer can be used to create free standing lace ornaments,  as it can be embroidered and then the excess can be dissolved away.   Cutaway/washaway can also be a good option for when the back of an embroidered item, like a monogrammed towel, for instance,  might be seen.  The excess stabilizer will wash away over time,  leaving the back of the embroidery tidy.

Cap Backing – Hats are a popular item with many embroiderers,  and cap backing makes embroidering a hat easier.  This type of backing is usually 2.5 to 3.0 ounces,  and is often offered in smaller sizes like 4 x 7.  Cap backing is a stiff, paperlike tearaway,  which tears cleanly, and is stiff enough to support stitch heavy logos.

Some embroiderers will tell you that specialty stabilizers aren’t necessary,  that a simple cutaway or tearaway will get the job done in almost any situation,  and they wouldn’t be wrong.  What specialty stabilizers offer is the ability not just to get the job done,  but to get it done in a way that works with the fabric and creates a finished design that is really a work of art.

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Featured Friday: The St. Patrick’s Day Edition

First of all,  Happy St. Patrick’s Day to everyone.   Are you all wearing your green and planning pub crawls later in the day?  Second,  it’s been a while since I’ve done a Featured Friday post,  so I thought I’d go over what Featured Friday is for those who may be new to the concept.   On Featured Friday,  I curate a list of blog posts or other items that I think will be helpful to people in the industries that EnMart serves.   It’s really just a list of stuff I think those who read this blog will find interesting and/or helpful.   Simple as that.

First up,  from Eileen’s Machine Embroidery Blog,  we have instructions on correcting a monogram mistake.  If you embroidered “SLT” and it’s really supposed to be “SLP” – this is a post you need to read.   Eileen leads you step by step through the correction process.  Even if you use a different software than she does,  the tips should still be helpful.

Second on the list is an examination of what Stahls’ calls 12 hot trends for 2017.  While it appears these trends are primarily dealing with vinyl,  most of what they talk about could be translated to other decoration mediums.  Mixing fonts,  adding shine with metallics and putting logos in non-standard placements are all trends that can be created using almost any decoration technique.  Definitely a lot to think about in this post.

Third at bat is an interesting post from Retail Minded about how to handle political divisions in the workplace.  The last election was contentious and people on both sides have strong views.   This post covers how to deal with people expressing those views in their day to day work lives.   It’s a very relevant post right now,  and the tips it gives can help keep your shop stress fee,  at least when it comes to political topics.

Fourth on the docket,  for the quilters among us,  a story of trying something new,  designers who say “draw your own” and buying fabric that you don’t remember buying.  I love the description of having the memory of buying one fabric and being shocked when the other fabric is received.   I think that’s a common thing for a lot of quilters,  along with fixating on finding just the right fabric to create what you want to create.   I’m sure many quilters will find what this post describes familiar.

Finally,  from Seth Godin,  we have a post about building your organization from both the top and the bottom.  I love this post because of what it says about leadership and about how much attitude matters when building a team or a workforce.   There are also some great tips for how to lead and how to create an organization that treats the people on the lowest rungs of the company as the foundation,  not disposable.   This is definitely worth a read.

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Wisdom Wednesday: Pondering Price

money-questions-198x300“How do I price this job?”

“How would you veterans price this job?”

“What would you charge to do this?”

The questions that are asked may differ,  but the intent behind them is the same,  someone please tell me how to price this stuff.  Make me feel that the price I want to charge is reasonable and correct.   Give me some guidance on how I should be pricing my work.  Let me know that what I do is valuable and worth what I want to ask people to pay for it.

We all know that setting a price for something can be difficult.  The dictionary defines price as “the sum or amount of money or its equivalent for which anything is bought, sold, or offered for sale”  which sounds pretty simple.   You want an embroidered hoodie.  I tell you the hoodie, decorated as you wish,  is $20.  You give me $20,  I give you the hoodie.  An easy transaction, right?

In reality,  it’s anything but easy.   First, you have the fact that decoration work is creative work, and creative work has, historically, been undervalued.  Second,  you have the fact that decoration businesses can range from a one head machine run out of a home to a company with multiple locations and hundreds of heads,  with each business having different income needs and pricing requirements. Third,  you have customers who are looking to get the best value for their money, and may have unrealistic expectations of what your work should cost.  Add in the problem of determining the value of one’s own work, let alone telling other people what you think that value to be,  and you end up with wildly fluctuating price scales,  and good decorators doing quality work who most likely aren’t making nearly what they should.

So, how do we reverse this trend?

Reversing the trend,  in my opinion,  comes down to playing the twin roles of educator and advocate.  Education starts with your company’s customers and,  really, continues anywhere your work is discussed either verbally or in writing.   The goal is to inform your customers and potential customers about what it costs to make the items you make,  cost not only in actual dollars,  but also in time and training.  Your work should always be presented as something done by a skilled craftsperson,  someone who has dedicated time and effort to learning their craft and who should be paid accordingly.     The more the general public understands what goes into the work that is being done,  the more likely it is that they will value the work more,  and expect to pay a higher price for it.

Advocacy also starts at home,  or in your shop,  and extends out to the rest of the world.   Being an advocate for the decoration community means charging a fair price for your work,  charging artificially low prices depresses the rates that all decorators can charge, and also teaches the marketplace to expect quality, painstaking work for mere pennies.   Advocacy also extends to how you talk about what you do.   Emphasize the skills involved and the work it takes to learn the craft.  Speak out when you hear or see people complaining about the price of a decorated garment,  explaining why the cost that is being charged is fair.   Be aware of those who will try to get you to do work for exposure,  as exposure can’t pay the mortgage or keep the lights on.  Make it a point to call out the people who underestimate the value of what we,  as an industry, do,  and keep pushing for the respect,  and the fair pricing structure that the industry deserves.

Pricing is always going to be a controversial issue.  A fair price for you might not seem like a fair price to me; there will always be differences in how things are priced by different decorators,  just as there are differences in where and how individual decorators do their work.   The thing to remember is that a rising tide lifts all boats,  and doing a little pricing research in your market before setting prices can help assure that every decorator gets a fair price for the work that they do.

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Marketing Monday: Building Trust with Social Media

trust-group-of-people-1940x900_35342Once upon a time,  7 years ago now,  as a matter of fact,  I wrote a post called “Sell, Sell = Bye, Bye” which talked about the notion that doing nothing but selling on a company social media feed would drive customers away instead of inspire them to buy.   The whole premise behind the post was to drive home the idea that becoming part of the community and building trust should be the goal,  not moving product.  While I think my point is still valid,  I also understand that building trust can be a complicated and drawn out endeavor, and that some companies may not be sure how to go about creating social media accounts that build trust.   Today’s Marketing Monday post details some ways that can be accomplished.

Method 1:  Show off completed work – Showing off work that is completed serves a couple of purposes.   First,  it shows what your company can do,  spotlights your creativity,  and presents you as a business that produces.  Second,  it can serve as an inspiration for other customers who might be looking for similar work.  Third,  it,  without the words ever being said,  lets prospective customers know that your work is being purchased,  which means that people are trusting you with their ideas and their money.

Method 2:  Ask for questions – Encourage your customers to post comments or to message you asking for ideas or thoughts on how a specific job could be done.  Customers may also ask questions about particular supplies or types of garments.   The idea is to position your company as an expert,  and to get customers accustomed to coming to you when they want solid information and helpful answers.   This technique is definitely about building trust.   Studies have shown that customers are much more likely to do business with companies and people that have demonstrated they are trustworthy.   Providing unbiased,  helpful information is one way to do that.

Method 3:  Ask for reviews – Reviews can come through the mechanism that is used by an individual social media platform to allow and encourage reviews.  Those are helpful and often referenced by potential customers.   The other option for reviews is to ask customers who are pleased to post on their social media feed,  so you can share the post on yours,  or to post on your feed directly.   The posts don’t have to be elaborate,  a simple “Thanks XYZ Company!  My daughter loves her new shirt” accompanied by a picture of said daughter wearing the shirt and a big grin is more than enough.

Method 4:  Ask for referrals – Referrals are all about trust.   Someone,  a current customer of yours,  recommends you to a friend or business associate who needs the kind of work you do.   The friend/business associate trusts the person who made the recommendation and therefore trusts you by association.  Some companies will solicit referrals by offering a discount on the next order of the person/company that made the referral.  That is a valid technique,  just make sure the referral actually pans out into a quality customer before rewarding the company that made the referral.

Method 5:  Share a view behind the curtain – On the EnMart Facebook page,  I sometimes talk about the weather,  or share a picture of the company owner’s dog doing something funny.   Sometimes we’ll share video of a piece of equipment running,  or talk a bit about why use a particular product or work with a particular company.   You don’t have to share trade secrets,  and you don’t have to get personal,  but letting customers have a little glimpse into your process and how your company operates can help them to trust you and your company more.

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Customer Spotlight: Black Duck Inc.

cs_blackduckincName:  Erich Campbell

Business:   Black Duck Embroidery and Screen Printing

Anyone who knows anything about machine embroidery probably knows about Erich Campbell and Black Duck Inc.  He is the digitizing guru who creates the fabulous works of art for which Black Duck Embroidery and Screen Printing is known, as well a sharing his expertise at www.erichcampbell.com.   He writes for Printwear Magazine and for Mr. X-Stitch.  Erich is a huge advocate for the industry and always willing to share his knowledge and abilities to help others.   I’m honored that he took a bit of time from his busy life to answer some questions about the work he does,  the company for which he does that work, and why he does business with EnMart.

Please describe your work.

EC:  I am primarily an embroidery digitizer,  but our company does everything from small to large scale screen printing on manuals and automatics,  all manner of embroidery,  heat-printing, sign-making, sublimation and digital transfers, all in house and with our own art staff.

What do you like best about what you do?

EC: Creating solutions that delight people; creative problem solving is satisfying in itself,  but being able to do so in a way that allows us to both exercise our love of commercial art and design and supports people in our local community makes our work an absolute joy.  We have customers tell us that we are seen as the shop to seek out if no other shop can handle your work or is willing to try.   We are artists, experimenters, and we work well together.

What is the biggest challenge you face in doing your work?

EC: Doing the work that we want to do and are good at doing and making sure to keep it profitable and responsive;  probably the hardest thing to do is pull away from the work of production to make sure our business is current,  keeping up with technology and promoting itself to the right audience.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing your industry as a whole?

EC: It’s a massive cultural shift that’s causing challenges for all of us – the shift toward individual personalization is difficult, but doable, whereas the continuous pressure to deliver more quickly, almost instantly, and to produce a better product with a high-quality decoration at a commodity price can be tough.

Were you always creative?  Did you make things as a child?

EC: I would say that I come from a long family history of makers – I wasn’t always enamored of the visual arts, though.   I can draw passably well,  but I didn’t while away my time drawing when I was young.  I did, however, carve wood,  build things,  play with construction toys,  work on machine and cars with my mechanic father,  help my mother who at times worked as a seamstress,  and last,  but certainly not least,  I was always a writer.  Language was my first creative venture, and remains a favorite outlet to this day.

What one tip would you give people starting out in your field?

EC:  Be ready to fail and forgive yourself,  then learn to control your variables and test.  You will destroy a garment.   You will have to sample things more than once, and you will make mistakes.  Accept it,  then learn by degrees to let it go.  Analyze your failures and take what you’ve learned to heart; measure everything, and apply what you learn.  You will grow by leaps and bounds once you do; you will be a sponge at first, absorbing everything,  but it’s in the experimentation and doing that it will all solidify and become real.

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If you could travel back to when you started in this industry,  what piece of advice would you give yourself?

EC: Never get comfortable.  Try more, execute faster,  and be less conservative with your ideas.  An idea is nothing until it is executed, and there is rarely a “perfect” time to try.  Get more things to market and give them their season; you never know what might stick.

What is your favorite leisure time activity?

EC: That’s a tough one;  I’m a big movie watcher and reader,  but I also love hiking, drawing and teaching where I can.  When you do what you love,  leisure and work sometimes bleed together,  even when they are tiring or difficult.   In truth,  I do work quite a lot though.  I often joke that there’s just a break between my first shift (work at Black Duck) and my second shift (writing and teaching for the industry).

Why do you buy from/work with EnMart?

EC:  EnMart has tested quality product and the best customer service;  I’ve never had a problem ordering by any method of contact, and I can always trust the products that I ordered will come in,  as ordered,  on time.   EnMart is reliable and saves me time.

What EnMart products do you use most?

EC: Sublimation inks and papers, blank patches, and Q-104/102 water soluble topping and backing.

Why do you use these products?

EC: EnMart has always been our sublimation partner,  and they carry top quality Sawgrass products as well as their own tested brand of transfer paper;  their added service and support is fantastic and makes the difference.   Q-102 is great for making our own in-house custom shaped emblems,  so it’s a natural fit for us as well.

You can find Erich and Black Duck Inc.  on the following social media sites:

Facebook

Twitter

Google+

Pinterest

Instagram

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Happy New Year!

happy-new-year

 

EnMart will be closed Monday,  January 2, 2017  in honor of the New Year.   We wish all our friends and customers only the best for 2017! 

Time Travel Tuesday: What’s Ahead for 2017

time-travel-2One of the fun things about time travel is the fact that it goes in both directions.   Today I thought we’d take a moment to look at some things that are coming up in 2017.   Here’s some of what the future holds for EnMart.

New Products – We are preparing to introduce a new line of products at the Creativation Show in Phoenix in January.   We’re in booth #619.   If you’re at the show,  stop by and see what EnMart and Iris Thread have to offer!

New Look for the Website – EnMart is working on a redesign of our website for 2017.  Some of the redesign will be appearance related,  some will be functionality related.   We’re excited about making our website easier to use and creating a look that reflects the EnMart experience.

We’ll be Traveling – Currently our list of scheduled trade shows for 2017 includes the VDTA Show and all three DAX Shows as well as the Creativation Show listed above.   At the DAX Shows,  as usual, we’ll have a wide variety of products for sale in our booth.   We look forward to seeing everyone at these shows.

Educational Efforts –  We’ve scouted a great location we think will be useful for some quilting videos.   There are plans in the works to do some series posts on this blog,  discussing things like backing or types of thread.  We have some other ideas as well,  so it should be an exciting and educational year.

Mostly,  we’re just excited about the plans we have for the upcoming year, and all the great things we’re going to do.   We’re also very grateful to those of you who have supported us in 2016.   Whether it was stopping by our booth at a trade show,  purchasing something from our website,  leaving us a review on our website or on Facebook,  or simply taking a moment to let us know that you appreciate what we do,  we’re glad you’ve spent a bit of your time with EnMart.   Thank you.

 

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Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah

christmas2010wallpapers16

EnMart will be closed on Monday, December 26 in honor of Christmas.   We will re-open on Tuesday, December 27.   We wish all our clients and friends a happy and joyous holiday!